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The Role of the Non Francophone Parent in a Bilingual Family

 The main things…

  • Show a positive and encouraging attitude towards French (this makes French relevant and interesting for the child; this also reassures them).
  • Even if this attitude is expressed in a language other than French.
  • Encourage reading at all ages, in English as well as in French (transferral of skills from one language to another).
  • Support the Francophone parent.

The ideal situation…

  • The non-francophone parent learns French and this learning is integrated into family life. For the child, this is the ultimate confirmation that French is important. And this reinforces the exposure of the whole family to French (high bilingualism). 

Examples of practical things you can do…

  • You can ask your child, “So, what did you do today in your French play group?” When your child responds, say “Way to go!”.
  • Ask the child to find "French" letters such as the "é" on the French side of the cereal box, to explain the meaning of a French word (for instance,“collation”), or to say the French equivalent of some words from their own language (e.g., what is the French word for the Spanish word “gracias”? (“merci”), etc.). 

The feeling of exclusion... 

  • Sometimes the non-francophone parent feels excluded from the education or life of their child. At the very beginning, when the child is a baby or does not speak much yet, this poses no apparent problems. But as the child grows and the Francophone parent wishes to increase the child’s exposure to French, for example through songs, books, TV shows or by inviting French speakers to the home, the non-francophone parent may find it difficult to participate without understanding. The non-francophone parent could also expect that the family speak English if they are present.
  • In her book Language Strategies for Bilingual Families, Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert indicates that 20 per cent of interviewed parents felt excluded in such cases. Some parents attribute a high enough value to the bilingualism of the child that they are just happy that the child is exposed to two languages, even if this means that both parents cannot always participate. 

To find out more...

  • Language Strategies for Bilingual Families (Suzanne Barron-Hauwaert), Multilingual Matters Ltd., Collection Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide, no 7, 2004, 220 p. | More than 100 bilingual families shared their stories and strategies with the author of this book. From this data, the author makes links with research on the subject. She also shares her experience of being a mother having raised three bilingual children. Comments about a parent’s sense of isolation resulting from exclusion are given on pages 123-129.
  • Fusion (I’m with you 2: Raising a Bilingual Child in a Two-Language Household) Glen Taylor, published by the author, 2007, 190 p. | This book in English is a must-have for bilingual families. It's a guide with many tips for non-francophone parents to help support their pre-school or school-aged child. The concepts are explained in clear and simple language with many suggestions based on the "one parent, one language" principle.